Herb: White Oak

Latin name: Quercus alba

Family: Fagaceae (Beech Family)

Medicinal use of White Oak:

White oak was often used medicinally by several native North American Indian tribes, who valued it especially for its antiseptic and astringent properties and used it in the treatment of many complaints. It is little, if at all, used in modern herbalism. The inner bark contains 6 - 11% tannin, it has powerful antiseptic and astringent properties and is also expectorant and tonic. The bark is boiled and the liquid drunk in the treatment of bleeding piles and diarrhoea, intermittent fevers, coughs and colds, consumption, asthma, lost voice etc. The bark has been chewed as a treatment for mouth sores. Externally, it is used as a wash for skin eruptions, burns, rashes, bruises, ulcers etc and as a vaginal douche. It has also been used as a wash for muscular pains. The bark is best collected in the spring. Any galls produced on the tree are strongly astringent and can be used in the treatment of haemorrhages, chronic diarrhoea, dysentery etc.

Description of the plant:


20 m
(66 feet)

to May

Habitat of the herb:

Dry woods, gravelly ridges, sandy plains, rich uplands and moist bottoms. The best specimens are found in deep rich well-drained loamy soils.

Edible parts of White Oak:

Seed - raw or cooked. Somewhat sweet. The seed is about 1 - 3cm long and ripens in its first year. It contains about 6% protein and 65% carbohydrates. It is low in tannin and needs little if any leaching. It is said that those seeds with red or pink blotches on the shell are the sweetest. Any bitter tannins can be leached out by thoroughly washing the dried and ground up seed in water, though many minerals will also be lost. It can take several days or even weeks to properly leach whole seeds, one method was to wrap them in a cloth bag and place them in a stream. Leaching the powder is quicker. A simple taste test can tell when the tannin has been leached. The traditional method of preparing the seed was to bury it in boggy ground overwinter. The germinating seed was dug up in the spring when it would have lost most of its astringency. The seed can be roasted and then eaten, its taste is something like a cross between sunflower seeds and popcorn. The roasted seed is a coffee substitute that is free from caffeine.

Other uses of the herb:

A mulch of the leaves repels slugs, grubs etc, though fresh leaves should not be used as these can inhibit plant growth. The bark is a rich source of tannin. Oak galls are excrescences that are sometimes produced in great numbers on the tree and are caused by the activity of the larvae of different insects. The insects live inside these galls, obtaining their nutrient therein. When the insect pupates and leaves, the gall can be used as a rich source of tannin, that can also be used as a dyestuff. A brown dye is obtained from the bark or from the galls, it does not require a mordant. Yellow, chrome and gold can also be obtained if mordants are used. Wood - strong, very heavy, hard, tough, close grained, durable. It weighs about 46lb per cubic foot. One of the most important timbers in N. America, it is used for cabinet making, construction, agricultural tools etc, and is also a good fuel. Highly valued for making the staves of barrels for storing wine and liquor.

Propagation of White Oak:

Seed - it quickly loses viability if it is allowed to dry out. It can be stored moist and cool overwinter but is best sown as soon as it is ripe in an outdoor seed bed, though it must be protected from mice, squirrels etc. Small quantities of seed can be sown in deep pots in a cold frame. Plants produce a deep taproot and need to be planted out into their permanent positions as soon as possible, in fact seed sown in situ will produce the best trees. Trees should not be left in a nursery bed for more than 2 growing seasons without being moved or they will transplant very badly.

Cultivation of the herb:

Dry woods, gravelly ridges, sandy plains, rich uplands and moist bottoms. The best specimens are found in deep rich well-drained loamy soils.

Known hazards of Quercus alba:

None known

Plant information taken from the Plants For A Future.